The Spirit of the Border HTML version

Chapter 29.
The fleeting human instinct of Wetzel had given way to the habit of years. His merciless
quest for many days had been to kill the frontier fiend. Now that it had been
accomplished, he turned his vengeance into its accustomed channel, and once more
became the ruthless Indian-slayer.
A fierce, tingling joy surged through him as he struck the Delaware's trail. Wingenund
had made little or no effort to conceal his tracks; he had gone northwest, straight as a
crow flies, toward the Indian encampment. He had a start of sixty minutes, and it would
require six hours of rapid traveling to gain the Delaware town.
"Reckon he'll make fer home," muttered Wetzel, following the trail with all possible
The hunter's method of trailing an Indian was singular. Intuition played as great a part as
sight. He seemed always to divine his victim's intention. Once on the trail he was as hard
to shake off as a bloodhound. Yet he did not, by any means, always stick to the Indian's
footsteps. With Wetzel the direction was of the greatest importance.
For half a mile he closely followed the Delaware's plainly marked trail. Then he stopped
to take a quick survey of the forest before him. He abruptly left the trail, and, breaking
into a run, went through the woods as fleetly and noiselessly as a deer, running for a
quarter of a mile, when he stopped to listen. All seemed well, for he lowered his head,
and walked slowly along, examining the moss and leaves. Presently he came upon a little
open space where the soil was a sandy loam. He bent over, then rose quickly. He had
come upon the Indian's trail. Cautiously he moved forward, stopping every moment to
listen. In all the close pursuits of his maturer years he had never been a victim of that
most cunning of Indian tricks, an ambush. He relied solely on his ear to learn if foes were
close by. The wild creatures of the forest were his informants. As soon as he heard any
change in their twittering, humming or playing--whichever way they manifested their joy
or fear of life--he became as hard to see, as difficult to hear as a creeping snake.
The Delaware's trail led to a rocky ridge and there disappeared. Wetzel made no effort to
find the chief's footprints on the flinty ground, but halted a moment and studied the ridge,
the lay of the land around, a ravine on one side, and a dark impenetrable forest on the
other. He was calculating his chances of finding the Delaware's trail far on the other side.
Indian woodcraft, subtle, wonderful as it may be, is limited to each Indian's ability.
Savages, as well as other men, were born unequal. One might leave a faint trail through
the forest, while another could be readily traced, and a third, more cunning and skillful
than his fellows, have flown under the shady trees, for all the trail he left. But redmen
followed the same methods of woodcraft from tradition, as Wetzel had learned after long
years of study and experience.